Paula Dodds' Story
"That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard," Paula Dodds told National Jewish Health pulmonologist Dr. Joshua Solomon. He had just told her that there might be a problem with her heart.
Paula, 50, peddled 2,600 miles annually on her road bike, and had recently ridden over Vail Pass, elevation 10,666 feet. Her blood pressure was fine, but she was experiencing shortness of breath, sweating, and vague chest pains. Dr. Solomon recommended a stress test and a methacholine challenge, a test for asthma. Paula scoffed, but signed up for the tests.
Dr. Solomon later informed her that she flunked both tests - she had mild asthma and possible heart disease. He advised her to see a colleague, cardiologist Andrew Freeman. With expertise in both pulmonology and cardiology, National Jewish Health was the perfect place for a patient like Paula.
Dr. Freeman spent over three hours in person and on the phone with Paula. A heart catheterization and a cardiac CT angiogram revealed that Paula had been born with a malformed coronary artery that was robbing her heart of vital oxygen.
Dr. Freeman told Paula she needed open heart surgery - soon. She had a high risk of sudden cardiac death that neither exercise nor lifestyle changes could help.
Just Live Your Life
On September 18, 2009, Paula underwent successful surgery to repair her artery. A few weeks later, she asked Dr. Freeman, "What can I do now? What are my limitations? I'll never forget his answer. He told me, ‘just live your life.'"
Paula got back on her bike six weeks after her surgery, riding 10 miles the first day. The next day she rode 12, and then almost 21 miles. In late November she rode 35 miles in El Tour de Tucson.
Time To Listen
Paula credits National Jewish Health with saving her life. Drs. Solomon and Freeman listened to her, took the time to answer her questions, and, with the help of their surgical colleagues at University Hospital, solved her medical mystery. Paula still sees Dr. Solomon for her asthma, and if he orders any more tests, she will be glad to take them.
"I've learned my lesson," she says. "I have 100 percent faith and confidence in National Jewish Health."